IT comes as no surprise to learn that it is the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) itself that decides where and when it will fight. "It is we who determine the time and the place," said GAM spokesman Teungku Sofyan Daud. Now evicted from Aceh's cities and villages, GAM has resorted to guerilla tactics, and can strike anywhere at any time.
Sofyan Daud's own whereabouts are unclear. He can only be contacted via his satellite phone, which he always has with him in the field. According to information from the TNI's First Mobile Task Force, the GAM leader in the Pase area is now somewhere in Rantau Seulamat, East Aceh. Previously, it had been said that he and his fighters were holed up in the swamps near Meunasah Raya Village, Jambo Aye, North Aceh. The Indonesian Military (TNI) mounted an operation in this area last week, but the GAM fighters escaped the dragnet.
So, where is Sofyan really? Nobody appears to know precisely. Naturally, Sofyan himself is loath to reveal his current position.
In all Aceh, there are four areas regarded as being GAM strongholds: East Aceh, North Aceh, Bireuen, and Pidie. It is in these areas that most of the estimated 5,000 GAM fighters are located. It should be noted that the main land route between Banda Aceh and Medan also traverses these four areas. So, it is hardly surprising that this highway is often blocked by GAM. The guerillas also frequently stage ambushes along its length. The victims are not just security personnel, but also civilian travelers.
On June 3, for example, GAM intercepted a convoy of TNI trucks at Simpang Tiga Beracan Village, Trieng Gading District, Pidie. Two soldiers were slightly wounded in the attack. Two days later, GAM ambushed 21 soldiers from the 21st Cakra unit as they were heading for Alue Bate, Peureulak, East Aceh, from Panton Labu. Comr. Private Junaidi was injured in this attack.
The most damaging (from the TNI perspective) ambush to date was staged by GAM as darkness fell on Tuesday, June 10. A group of approximately 60 TNI troops were attacked by GAM fighters using heavy weapons from the slopes of Sudan Hill as the soldiers were traveling along a road at Matang Kumbang Village, Peusangan District, North Aceh. The battle, which was fought in the dark, left seven TNI soldiers and five GAM fighters dead. Among the dead guerillas was a member of the GAM women's wing, the Inong Balee.
The hit-and-run tactics adopted by GAM mean that TNI troops always have to be on full alert, especially when out on the road in GAM strongholds.
Tomi Lebang, Abdul Manan (Aceh)
TEMPO, JUNE 23, 2003-041/P. 21 Heading Cover Story